By Robin Gomes
Filipinos went to the polls on Monday in the midterm election that is seen as a test for the popularity of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, especially his brutal war on drugs, after three years in power.
Over 60 million voters from over 7,000 islands were expected to choose from 43,500 candidates vying for about 18,000 national and local posts, including 12 crucial seats in the 24-member Senate and 243 seats in the House of Representatives.
The key issue for Duterte is to control the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, where he does not currently have a majority to pass his legislative agenda.
One of his main goals is to revise the country’s Constitution to effectively lift term limits. He also intends to lower the age of criminal liability of child offenders as well as bring back the death penalty for some serious crimes.
The IBON Foundation, an independent think-tank, noted that the midterm polls could be one of the last chances for Filipinos to try to preserve freedom and democracy as Duterte’s administration implements harsh neoliberal economic policies and undermines democracy.
The winners of the midterm election will take office on June 30, 2019.
Prayers for peaceful polls
On the eve of the elections, Catholic parishes held prayers for "credible, honest and peaceful" polls.
In a statement, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo called on voters to pray before voting so that they will not select "a thief, dishonest person or one who promotes killing?"
“If we pray over our vote, will we not allow our vote to be influenced by money, or much worse, sell it?" said the bishop.
"We are poor and people have already robbed us of basic services in life, of our environment, of our jobs. Let them not rob us of our dignity. Our one vote is our dignity, let us not sell it," he added.
The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches also made a similar call for prayers and discernment.
Church - partisan politics for the laity
Ahead of the polls, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), refuted reports that the Church was endorsing senatorial candidates.
The archbishop explained that the CBCP did not make any such endorsement. “Bishops and priests are not allowed to do that,” he said, explaining partisan politics is left to the lay people.
However, he said that the CBCP appeals to all Filipinos to vote wisely and “pray for peaceful, credible and honest elections.” (Source: UCAN)